First Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Released in U.S. Are Hatching Now

D. Coffey,  Scientific American,  2021.

This week, mosquito eggs placed in the Florida Keys are expected to hatch tens of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes, a result of the first U.S. release of such insects in the wild. A biotechnology firm called Oxitec delivered the eggs in late April as part of a federally approved experiment to study the use of genetic engineering—rather than insecticides—to control disease-carrying mosquito populations. The move targets an invasive species, called Aedes aegypti, that carries Zika, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and other potentially deadly diseases, some of which are on the rise in Florida. The experiment relies on a genetic alteration that will be lethal to a large number of future offspring. In this case, male mosquitoes have been modified to carry a gene that makes their female progeny dependent on the antibiotic tetracycline—and thus fated to die in the wild. As the mating cycle repeats over generations, female numbers are depleted, and the population is suppressed. The modified insects eventually die off, making this approach self-limiting. Oxitec overcame significant regulatory hurdles before getting the go-ahead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016 and then the Environmental Protection Agency in 2020. If the current pilot effort is successful, the firm is set to release as many as 20 million more males in the prime of Florida’s mosquito season later this year. The results of the experiment could ultimately help address concerns about releasing genetically modified organisms into the wild.

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